Superb fairywren showing strongly in 2021 Australian bird of the year poll

Superb fairywren showing strongly in 2021 Australian bird of the year poll

Superb fairywren showing strongly in 2021 Australian bird of the year poll

Gang-gang cockatoo and tawny frogmouth not far behind as voters eliminate ibis – while a vocal bird family emerges as a favourite

The superb fairywren (middle) is competing against the gang-gang cockatoo (left) and tawny frogmouth (right) for the coveted 2021 Guardian/BirdLife Australian bird of the year.

Josh Nicholas

Last modified on Mon 4 Oct 2021 22.58 EDT

Voting in the 2021 Guardian/BirdLife Australian bird of the year has been incredibly close so far, but the superb fairywren may be pulling away from the pack.

Voting starts afresh each day, with the bottom five birds eliminated at midnight, until only 10 birds of the original 50 are left for the final vote. Because votes are not cumulative, and fans of the eliminated birds must find a new favourite, it is hard to be certain that patterns will hold for the final rounds.

However, looking at the votes over the first week may give us some clues.

Among the favourites are the gang-gang cockatoo, superb fairywren and tawny frogmouth, which were separated by just a few hundred votes over the full week.

Each led the vote on at least one day of the poll. The top 13 birds in the first week each came from a different bird family.

The black-throated finch won the last bird of the year poll under the old voting system by a huge margin of 7,802 votes, and ended up with 35% of the total. The Australian magpie received 13.3% of the vote in 2017, beating the white ibis (AKA bin chicken) by just 800-odd votes, but 9,000 ahead of third place.

This year the top three birds each account for just 5%-7% across the poll so far. The lack of movement in the votes suggests that voters who had supported eliminated birds are not switching to the most popular birds in subsequent rounds.

As more birds are eliminated the average and median vote totals per bird have been rising. But it isn’t clear where voters are turning if their favourite is eliminated.

The Australian white ibis – runner-up in the previous poll – was eliminated on Sunday with just 2.2% of the vote. This is very similar to the 2.1% that it received on the first day, when up against the full field of 50 birds.

The birds in the poll come from 32 different families, according to Birdlife Australia’s working list of Australian birds. But just 17 families remain in the last few days.

A couple of families are overrepresented in the competition – there were eight parrots, lorikeets and rosellas; five cockatoos and corellas; and three woodswallows, currawongs, butcherbirds and magpies in our original lineup.

But even though cockatoos and corellas – which includes the gang gang and the galah – were outnumbered, they have consistently had the largest vote share of any bird family.

The superb fairywren and tawny frogmouth may be popular among voters, but their families have drawn fewer votes than the woodswallows, currawongs, butcherbirds and magpie; and the parrots, lorikeets and rosellas. There were several wrens, cockatoos and corellas left in the competition by the end of the first week.

The gang-gang may not win, but there’s a good chance that cockatoos and corellas will wind up the most popular family, even if the galah and Carnaby’s black-cockatoo don’t make it to the end.

Notes and methods:

  • Family names are the “Family common name” in the Birdlife Australia working list of Australian birds.

  • Bird of the year candidates attached to their families using taxonomy scientific names.

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